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Great moments in regulation

"In the 1930s the docks in Hamburg employed 100,000 people. Now the number is barely 1200, though it is still the 2nd busiest port in Europe, after Rotterdam, with a volume of trade equal to the whole of Austria’s. Until just a couple of weeks before, I could have witnessed the interesting sight of freighters unloading grain from their aft holds and re-depositing it in their forward holds, as a way of extracting additional funds from the ever beneficent EEC. With its flair for grandiose screw-ups, the EEC for years paid special subsidies to shippers for grain that was produced in one part of the Common Market and re-exported from another, so shippers taking a consignment from, say France, to Russia, discovered that they could make a fortune by stopping off at Hamburg en route, and pointlessly unloading the cargo, and reloading it. This little ruse enriched the shippers by a mere $75m before the bureaucrats of the EEC realized that that money could be much better spent on something else - themselves say - and put a stop to the practice."

From Bill Bryson, neither here nor there: travels in europe, pp. 96-7.